Re: Newton and MN -Reply

Ted Davis (
Mon, 06 Apr 1998 10:18:49 -0400

Just a brief response to Brian's latest comments on Newton.

Now that I see where you want to go, I'm with you. Yes, Newton's concept of
divine action DID entail the idea that God normally acts with great
regularity, such as directly causing gravitation (without any identifiable
secondary cause) in a lawlike manner. This looks like MN, but right beneath
it is a view of divine action that only a theist could accept. But yes, it
looks like MN.

On the other hand, he was insistent, esp in his correspondence (via Samuel
Clarke) with Leibniz, that God ALSO acts from time to time in ways that
transcend the laws of nature; and, that a world in which God does this can
be called "perfect" because it conforms to God's plans that this should be
so; and, that this is good theologically because it provides direct evidence
for God's governance, which is ordinarily regular and thus less immediately
evident. This final point is why Newton is said to have used a
"god-of-the-gaps" strategy. This is correct as far as it goes, but mustn't
be pushed too far because Newton thought there were NO gaps at the level of
divine action, ie at the level of our theological understanding; there were
gaps only at the level of our scientific understanding, which was more

Ted Davis